By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
Water is once again a problem for Invenergy Thermal Development LLC, the Chicago-based developer of the fossil-fuel power plant proposed for the woods of Burrillville, R.I.
On Jan. 22, the out-of-state energy company gave up on its plan to use land owned by the Narragansett Indian Tribe in Charlestown as a backup water source for cooling the proposed Clear River Energy Center.
Invenergy’s top attorney, Michael Blazer, said “turmoil, misinformation and misunderstanding” contributed to the decision to end the controversial water deal.
Blazer made the comment in response to a letter from John B. Brown III, the Narragansett Indian Tribe's historic preservation officer. Brown accused a small group of tribal members of derailing a Sept. 19, 2017 water agreement between Invenergy and the Narragansett Indian Tribe. Brown claimed that members of the “dissident group” are not tribal leaders and had no authority to speak on behalf of all Narragansetts.
Brown also blamed the overall opposition movement, which includes Charlestown residents and officials, for using those tribal members to further their cause.
“It is unfortunate that these individuals, who clearly have an agenda unrelated to the business of the Tribe and its clear economic needs, have tormented so much dissension,” Brown wrote.
During a Dec. 5 public hearing at Charlestown Elementary School, residents and town officials were frustrated by an absence of information, such as where the water would be taken from and the route water trucks would drive through town. A filling station and the water extraction system would also require permits from the town.
“The problem was with Invenergy, who had a lack of information when they put this plan together,” Charlestown town administrator Mark Stankiewicz told ecoRI News.
Stankiewicz learned of the terminated water deal after reading a media report online. He said the agreement isn’t likely officially terminated until the state Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) accepts the letters from Invenergy and the Narragansett Indian Tribe. Charlestown was granted intervenor status in the application vetting process in October.
"We have to withhold judgement until the EFSB says what they are going to do," Stankiewicz said.
As a result of the cancelled water termination agreement, seven members of the Narragansett Tribe who oppose the deal have dropped their request to intervene in the Clear River Energy Center application process.
Currently, Invenergy intends to get its water from the town of Johnston. That water deal came after two Burrillville water boards and the city of Woonsocket rejected selling water to Invenergy. The agreement with Johnston is being contested in state Superior Court. Benn Water of Hopkinton is a backup water supply but opponents of the water deal have raised questions about the validity of an agreement to buy the water from a municipal source in Fall River, Mass.
"This is the fifth water plan proposed by Invenergy and once again the water plan had not been fully vetted for its feasibly and impact. At this juncture, there doesn't seem to be any solid water plan - either primary or backup," said a statement from Burrillville officials.
The latest development comes ahead of a Jan. 30 hearing before the EFSB. Invenergy's water deal with the Narragansett Indian Tribe was going to be accepted or dismissed, along with a decision to suspend the application process until Invenergy can resolve a legal dispute over who will pay to connect the $1 billion power plant to the electric grid.